Content warning: This article describes the trauma inflicted upon Indigenous children in the residential school system and contains details and images that some viewers may find distressing.
Hundreds of children’s belongings line the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery to honour the thousands of Indigenous children recently discovered in unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools across Canada.
Each pair of shoes represents a missing Indigenous child who never made it home.
Visitors have gathered to pay their respects by reflecting on the memorial, writing messages in a guest book, signing online petitions and painting a banner with orange handprints in solidarity with the victims.
Well over one thousand unmarked children’s graves have been discovered since late May 2021, beginning with the 215 found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC.
The latest discoveries include 182 graves found outside Cranbrook, BC by members of the ʔaq'am band of the Ktunaxa Nation on Thursday, June 24, and 751 more outside Regina, SK by the Cowessess First Nation on Friday, June 25.
However, it is estimated that thousands more graves have yet to be found.
The residential school system was established by the Canadian government in the 1880s and overseen by the Catholic Church for over a century until the last school was closed in 1997 — a mere 24 years ago.
The purpose of the system was to “kill the Indian in the child” by forcibly removing Indigenous children from their homes and institutionalizing them in residential schools where they suffered abuse, trauma and death in the name of cultural assimilation.
A protest is being held at the Vancouver Art Gallery today, July 1, to denounce the celebration of Canada Day and instead confront the holiday’s roots in colonial genocide — exemplified by the residential school system.
The National Indian Residential School Crisis line provides 24/7 support to residential school survivors and others who may need it: 1-866-925-4419.